Monday, March 26, 2007

Experience THE FATHER by Becoming Father

We have lost, not the abstract thought, but the living experience of God. Benedict XVI paraphrased Gregory the Great saying: “(people today) “have never had an experience of God; they have never acquired a ‘taste’ for God; they have never experienced how delightful it is to be ‘touched’ by God! They lack this ‘contact’ – and with it, the ‘taste for God.’” [1] He went on: “when man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing.”[2]

Benedict is talking about the interior “I” not being exercised. He goes on: “When he overuses all the other organs, the [sensible] empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St. Gregory says, no longer perceives God’s gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me!”[3]


Challenge the Adolescent (of all ages) to the Absolute!



Richard Rohr points to this state of affairs as persistent adolescence, particularly in the male. His thesis is that boys at present do not become men because they undergo no initiation process mentored by true fathers. This process of initiation begins from below and from within, not from above and from without. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger had said “there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is to turned in on himself, hears it echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[4]

And it is to this ontologically yearning inside every young person that someone must challenge. Ratzinger goes on: “The anamnesis instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself. But this ‘from without’ is not something set in opposition to anamnesis but ordered to it. It has maieutic function, imposes nothing foreign, but brings to fruition what is proper to anamnesis, namely, its interior openness to the truth.” This tendency within the human person needs to be spoken to and answered by the revelation of itself. Every person, especially the young, has this driving imperative for the infinite and absolute. They are pilgrims of the absolute,” and this absolute must be answered. If not, if they are presented only with what they can see, touch, smell, hear and taste; they are disillusioned and compensate with the pseudo-absolute of “big crowds, loud music, marching armies, totally unrealistic fantasies, fame (or infamy!), money, and popularity. Anything loud, large or socially admired becomes the substitute for the cosmic and the transcendent that they are really ongoing for. Someone needs to tell them that, even if they only half-believe it.”[5] Richard Rohr expatiates: “If there is no contact with greatness, there is an almost cosmic disappointment inside of us, a deep sadness, a capacity for cynical dismissal and sullen coldness, exactly as we see in so many of our young today. The visionary gleam is lost. It is as if they are saying, ‘There are no great people or great patterns. I will not believe in anything. I will not be disappointed again.’ It is called postmodernism, and it is the general assumption of our jaded and uninitiated society.”[6] Importantly, Rohr then sounds the caveat: “But do note that it is not the presence of pain or suffering that destroys the brain; rather it is the lack of larger-than-life people around us. Primal cultures seemed to now that if young people missed being exposed to a greater meaning and greater people during key periods of their lives, especially the last clear opportunity at ages fourteen to seventeen, the result would be disastrous both for the young person and for the society.”[7]

Mentoring must come from outside, from men (for boys) who are truly fathers and who can pass on the inner experience of suffering initiation to become men. This is the foundation of all catechesis and the teaching authority of the Church and Pope. Hence, Ratzinger’s defense of John Henry Newman’s toast first to conscience, and then to the pope. Ultimately, it is God the Redeemer speaking to God the Creator of the imaging person.


Karol Wojtyla’s “Radiation of Fatherhood” and “Reflections on Fatherhood”


The challenge to the absolute is the challenge to make the full gift of self in order to find the real self. It is the passage trough the desert and the dark night of St. John of the Cross, precisely with suffering. John Paul II had presented this challenge in its true anthropological form to the young male image of God the Father in the form of becoming a father. Semantically, it became flesh as “Reflections on Fatherhood,” a kind of exegesis of his “Radiation of Fatherhood.” It reads:

“For many years now I have lived like a man exiled from my deeper personality yet condemned to probe it.

“During those years I have toiled unceasingly to reach it, always thinking with horror that it was becoming lost, blurred among the mass processes of history.

“Not for nothing am I called Adam. In this name one can meet every man; at the same time in this name everything that man contributes can be made ordinary. That is what I thought through all those years; I thought that my footsteps should be wiped out, butat I had to obliterate myself so that ti could identify with the average man, whose history is written from without by mobilized crowd. What else does the name ADAM mean?

“Do you want to substitute for it something from within? But what? Should one not recoil from it with terror?

[The answer: Loneliness]

“Although I am like the man who can be placed apart and then made a common denominator for al men, I still remain lonely.

“Nobody calls this loneliness a sin, but I know what to make of it. And I know who Adam is, he who stopped once on the frontier between the promise of fatherhood and his own loneliness. Who cut him off from men? Who made him lonely in the midst of them all? After all, he became lonely of his own free will in order to graft that loneliness onto others. Who will not call that a fault?

[The temptation to be like God as transcendent autonomy and therefore, alone]

“He is lonely. I asked myself, What will bring me nearer to Him than loneliness? What will make me more like Him, that is to say, more independent of everything?”

* * * * * * * *


Let me here insert in linear prose the insight of Louis Evely on the initiation of adolescent into man precisely as father – with pain:

“Do you know what it is to be a Father?

“To be a Father is precisely to suffer; to become a father is to become vulnerable. As long as one is young, one is hard, selfish, protected. No doubt, one has terrible blues, emotions, melancholies, but one holds one’s own pretty well, one withdraws easily, one suffers only for oneself. Our compassion for others is gratuitous, generous, superfluous.

“But when one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail, being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart. Oh, we really depend on people who depend on us! The strong person who loves a weak person has put his happiness at his mercy. He depends on him henceforth. He is without any defense against him. To love a person is inevitably to depend on him, to give him power over us. God loved us freely; God have us power over him. God wanted to have need of us. The passion is the revelation of our terrible power over God. He surrendered himself to us, we had him at our disposal, we did with him what we wanted. On a plaque in Normandy one can read this cruel sentence: ‘It is always the one who loves the least who is the strongest.’ It is always he who is least in love who gets his way with the other, who keeps a cool head and stays in control of the situation. God, in regard to us, will always be the weakest, for he loves. God can be denied, forgotten; he cannot deny us, forget us. We can be without God. God cannot be without men.
[8] We can stop being sons; he cannot stop being a Father. ‘Man in revolt against God is like the bird in the storm which dashes itself against the cliff. But God, in his mercy, became flesh so that the violence of the impact might be endured by him and not by us.’ Thus, God will always be the weakest against us for he loves us. We are of Jacob’s race, we are the true Israel, he who fought against the angel all night and who deserved his name: ‘mighty against God.’”[9]


One Father’s Relation to his Wounded Daughter


“I have always sensed that the physical somehow manifests the deeper spiritual bond we share. She is my daughter. She is a part of me. I know before anyone else, even her mother, what she wants or needs. I know when she is too cold. I know when she is hungry. I know when she will wake. Even when she has been inone of her deepest sleeps, I can sense if she will wake when I walk past. She knows I am there, and she calls me when she needs me.

“In the wee hours, when she has lain stiff in the nurse’s arms since midnight and even Liz cannot put her to sleep, I will take her in my lap, hold her hand in mine, wrap the blanket around her and she will soften slowly, then bat her eyelids heavily, and within moments drift off into a deep sleep. She was waiting for me to come to her, but had no way of telling the nurse or Liz other than by stiffening out.
“When I return after work, she is often in her chair. I drop my bag and kiss her on the cheek and say, ‘Lift your hand to greet me.’ Her body stiffens slightly, she tenses her face and groans, and then her hand comes up in what appears to be almost a voluntary motion. I know it is probably not voluntary though she does this for no one else. She hears me at least.

“Our newborn son is obviously his mother’s; they are connected. I love him. I love to hold him, carry him in my arms, change him on the table while he stares at the mobile above his head and laughs. But he is definitely his mother’s child. Elie is mine. I think God made that bond so strong, so seemingly telepathic, because He knew Elie would need it. She was given no way to communicate by normal means, so she had to have someone who could understand her through extra-ordinary means.

“I wonder sometimes if this almost telepathic bond can be developed or if it is innate. I tend to think it is the latter, but it grows as we nurture our love for the child. Most often only mother and child have it, perhaps strengthened through the power of breast feeding and nature. But Elie and I have it. We are linked, and the link is like an imperceptible spiritual nerve that connect us. It was always there, but as love grows and becomes more complex, so grows the complexity of the connection and the messages it can carry. At some point, speech becomes unnecessary, and understanding travels back and forth directly….

“There is another aspect of beauty which is more difficult to describe and yet no less important than the physical. That is the beauty born of suffering – a piquant, lovely, fragile form of beauty. Elie wears it at the corners of her eyes and the swollen skin around her joints. This beauty is not always attractive, but it is always compelling. Like the nearly hidden scar that graces her hairline from her widow’s peak to her earlobe, it becomes an outward sign of her willingness to endure adversity. There is a great beauty hidden in steadfastness.

“Elie’s suffering and endurance have given her a rare aura in this world. She is a child who can hardly communicate, who depends on others to know and meet her needs, who has little to look forward to with joy but the moments of comfort provided by her parents and nurses. I ask myself often what if she is only physically disabled but her mind still functions? What if she has dreams and hopes? What if she is trying to communicate but cannot? As a par tent, it is terrible to imagine these things because they may be true and we would never know it. Yet for her, trapped inside a strong but non-functional body, to endure takes heroism and love. The love comes from us, but the heroism is all hers. And there is beauty in that as well.

“I bathed Elie myself tonight. I held her head between two hands and let her body float in the soothing water. She slept until the water cooled, then woke and smacked her lips together softly. If I shut my eyes it was almost like waves lapping at the shore. As I lifted her from the bath, she pulled her legs up and curled into foetal position, her arms across her chest and clenched. I set her on the warmed towels and began to rub her scalp to dry it. She crunched up her face when the towel touched her lips. I drew it away… I dried around her waist… under her arms, her feet, her hands, in her ears. She suffered through everything, making hardly a sound. As I lifted her from the bathmat and cradles her naked into my chest, she sighted. A soft intake of breath then… a relaxation. Relief, love, comfort. It all comes out in that barely audible sigh. She does this often for me. It remains one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever known.”
[10]


And Then – Imaging the Father. The Gift: “Go Beautiful! Go To God! Go!”

“Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges died on March 11, 2004 on my lap, cradled between Liz and me.
“She died quietly, peacefully. As she breathed her last few breaths, Liz said a Hail Mary and creid out, “Jesus come!’ I whispered in her small ear, ‘Elie, Go, beautiful. Go to God. Go.’ She took a half breath, shuddered once almost imperceptibly as if her body held very lightly now to her soul, took another half breath, and then she breathed no more.
“We bathed her, combed out her hair, dressed her in a blue Easter dress that Liz’s brother had bought for her, and placed her in the coffin which we as a family had make.
“It was built of ash, painted white with a black inlaid cross on the cover. The inside was lined with white satin. The children each placed tow hand prints in bright colors on the side of the coffin and wrote underneath in black marker, ‘I love you, Elie,’ and their name.
“In the morning, Liz’s mother and her sister bought a tiara made of yellow and blue flowers and we placed it on her forehead before the wake. Never have I seen anything more beautiful than her face in the dim twilight of her room.
“Requiem in Pace. Is Elie resting in peace? I guess I hope not. I hope that for the first time, a little girl who was never able to walk finally has the use of her legs and is running through fields filled with the yellow and blue flowers that adorned her pale brow as she lay in her coffin.
“That night Elie died, we tried to explain to our children again what death meant. They all listened solemnly. When we were done with our explanation, there were a few moments of quiet, then four year-old Hannah asked us: ‘Mom, can Elie do a cartwheel now?’”
4

[1] Benedict XVI, Holy Mass with the Members of the Bishops’ Conference of Switzerland, November 7, 2006.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Proceedings of The Tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas (1991) 20-21.
[5] Richard Rohr, “Adam’s Return,” Crossroad (2004) 20.
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] This is not a statement of pantheistic emanationism but the “erotic” dimension of God’s Love that is both Agape and eros. See Benedict XVI’s “Deus Charitas Est:” “The one God in whom Israel believes… loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: … God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape…. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed ‘adultery’ and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I had you over, O Israel!... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos. 11, 8-9);” (Deus Charitas Est #9-10).
[9] Louis Evely, Ibid 126-128
[10] Gilges, “Manuscript” 45-46.

1 comment:

imjredmond said...

I believe the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration offer a wonderful path to experience God for an ongoing basis in their Liturgy of the Hours: Vespers – 3rd Monday of Easter April 23rd. In these vespers a reading offers the thoughts of John Cassium (?) from a work entitled “Where Your Treasure Is”.

Is great to have you on the web Father.